Recent Grad Zoha Hussain on How to Network and Thrive in Regulatory Affairs
By CYNTHIA MACNEIL – contributor
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
Zoha Hussain is a graduate of Northeastern’s Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs for Drugs, Biologics, and Medical Devices in Toronto. The program offered Zoha a unique opportunity to fuse her dual passions: biology and law. Today, she is the regulatory affairs specialist at a medical device software startup in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. She was hired just before completing her degree. In a recent phone interview, Zoha discussed how she got the most out of her education, maintaining a networking mindset, and her tips for thriving as a new regulatory affairs professional.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What attracted you to Northeastern’s Master’s program in Regulatory Affairs for Drugs, Biologics, and Medical Devices?
I discovered Northeastern at a postgraduate fair, and I was really impressed by the staff. I wanted to be a student of more than just coursework—I wanted to be around professionals who are passionate, who care about the work they’re doing. The program tied together both my biology background and my passion for law. It’s worked out well.
You studied law as well as biology before doing your Master’s. How did you find your way to combining those two passions?
I took law in high school and loved it. Initially, I decided not to pursue it. I went the medical route—biology. In my third year of university, I ended up taking a law course. I fell in love once again. One of my professors was a local lawyer, who I admire greatly. She’s strong, confident, and intelligent. Towards the end of our course, she pulled me aside and said, I think you should pursue law. That sat heavily with me because I respect her. So I let that rattle around in my head for a bit. I decided to try and find a way to bring together biology and medicine or biology and law. When I came across Northeastern, and they explained the regulatory affairs program to me, it was perfect.
The Regulatory Affairs program offers students opportunities to pursue experiential learning opportunities. What real-world problem did you tackle in your experiential learning project?
Regulatory submission management. We had an oncology drug that was through clinical trials. All the data was ready. It was time to go forward to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), present all the data, and try to get the product approved. It requires a lot of coordination. You work with the clinical trials team, research and development, marketing, and management. All of these different teams have to come together to help you compile and submit this massive application. As a submissions manager, it’s your job to make sure that everything is in that application. You also have to make room for unexpected things. What will happen if someone misses a milestone? Not everything will go as you want. These things happen. These projects give people a great taste of what to expect out in the workforce.
How did you narrow your professional focus to regulatory work for medical devices?
I went into medical devices because of my background in biology. I studied a lot of anatomy and physiology. I wanted to stick with regulations relevant to that background. Due to the opioid epidemic, there’s a growing mistrust towards drugs. Practitioners are working towards incorporating medical devices into their practice and therapies. I knew that it was a growing field. I want the work I’m doing to be impactful—to know that it will genuinely change peoples’ lives.
You’re at a medical device software startup now. What’s the experience like so far?
I love it. Where I live is full of graduating STEM students who have ambitious ideas for new medical therapies and technologies. I was able to land the job that I have through networking. A startup is such a great place to launch a career. You do every part of regulatory: strategic development, submissions management, ongoing compliance—all of which are vast areas of responsibility. Some large companies have teams that do just one of those tasks. At a startup, it can be a lot of responsibility but also a great learning opportunity.
Do you have a mentor?
I do! I connected with my mentor during my experiential learning project. I had a fantastic team leader. After I graduated, she agreed to mentor me. We meet every month and discuss what I’ve been going through at work. I also benefited from meeting Nicole Landreville, the Regulatory Affairs Manager at GE Healthcare, through the Toronto campus. She gave me a very realistic outlook on the industry. Regulatory is such a technical field. Not everyone can comprehend or relate to what you’re going through. Connecting with other professionals who understand the everyday challenges makes everything easier.
So far, what is your proudest achievement?
I had the opportunity to consult for McGill University. Their research team came up with a new medical device. They were looking for a way to commercialize it in the context of COVID-19. The pandemic presents an unprecedented regulatory situation—the landscape doesn’t look the same as usual. For example, there are currently no fees for submitting a new medical device licence application. Regulators are working closely with industry to try and get as many technologies and therapies out there as they can—as many options for prevention, care, and diagnostics as possible. We submitted the device to the FDA under emergency use authorization. I’m proud of myself for balancing two applications plus a full-time job.
If you could give your younger self any success tips, what would you say?
I would say embrace as much opportunity as you can. That goes for everyone. Try to meet new people. Diversify your experiences, and opportunities will open up for you. As the saying goes, it’s not so much about who you know as who knows you. Get out there and engage. If someone suggests having coffee with a friend who works in finance, and you think that doesn’t have anything to do with you, still go. You never know who they know or the opportunities they know of until you put yourself out there. You could stumble on something that you’re passionate about—something that’s meant for you.
Want to start a conversation? Connect with Zoha on LinkedIn.
Learn more about Canada’s only master’s degree in regulatory affairs here.